Rafu Staff Report
TORRANCE — The Torrance City Council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to appoint Michael Griffiths to fill a vacancy on the council after hearing public comments, mostly in support of applicant Ray Uchima.
The vacancy was created when Pat Furey was elected mayor in June. Furey and four other councilmembers were sworn in last month, and the decision was made to appoint Furey’s successor rather than hold a special election. A dozen people applied, including some of the unsuccessful candidates in the June election.
Griffiths, a member of the city’s Planning Commission and former member of the Environmental Commission, was one of those candidates. He said he was “deeply honored” and that running for office has been “a humbling experience.”
During the public comment period, some of the applicants spoke, including Cable Television Advisory Board members Dan Feliza and Jimmy Gow; Milton Herring, a traffic commissioner, pastor and Army veteran who would have been the council’s first African American member; and Mario Obejas, a retired information systems expert originally from Cuba.
Uchima was considered a front-runner for appointment, although he was not one of the 16 candidates. “I ran in the last election but due to my father’s sudden and unexpected illness, I had to withdraw from the campaign to take care of him,” he pointed out. “My father is very important to me, and I’m sure you would have done the same for your loved one.”
Citing his 19 years of experience in appointed city positions, Uchima said, “I’m proud to have conducted the hearings to update our General Plan. This important policy document guides the future development of the City of Torrance. During my 10½ years on the Planning Commission, I’ve had to resolve hundreds of sensitive issues, including new developments, hillside overlay cases and conditional use permits. This experience shows that I can effectively work with the public, city staff and my fellow commissioners.”
While serving on the Environmental Commission, “I was the driving force behind establishing Torrance’s Animal Control Department,” he said. “This program has proven to be cost-effective and more responsive to our community than the previous contract that we had with L.A. County.”
Currently a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, Uchima added, “I’m happy to have been part of the dedication of the newly built Toyota Soccer Field,” and as a board member of the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation, “I helped raise vital funding to support performing arts, music and education programs for the community.”
As president of Uchima Corporation, an asset and property management business headquartered in Torrance, he said, “I’ve assisted many companies locate to Torrance. Those businesses have created jobs and tax revenues for our city. I will use my expertise to help city staff attract new companies and to work to retain the ones we have.”
Four Torrance mayors have appointed him to commissions “because I demonstrated leadership, experience, commitment and integrity,” he concluded. “I am ready, willing and able to serve the people of Torrance.”
Rahmat Khan, a small business owner who finished 12th in the election, said he would “bring diversity to the City Council,” adding, “I’m representing not only one community; I’m representing three or four different languages” and the different ethnic groups that speak them.
Leilani Kimmel-Dagostino, who finished fifth in the election, just 765 votes short of fourth place, was born to a Japanese American mother in Hawaii. She is vice chair and former chair of the Commission on Aging. “Before I moved to Torrance 15 years ago, I spent over 35 years working in the airline industry, in customer service, marketing, sales, purchasing, training, finance, and group and tour development,” she told the council. “I’ve lived all over the United States and traveled extensively internationally, both for pleasure and business…
“I know Torrance needs new business and we should be looking at the international marketplace. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a person on board who has dealt with the business practices and customs of multicultural entities? I know the voters of Torrance have confidence in me to do the right thing.”
Alex See, who finished sixth in the election, is a member of the Water Commission, a restaurant owner and rocket scientist. Originally from Malaysia, he said, “I’m living the American dream. I’m so glad I had the privilege to participate in the last election. It was a great experience for me.” He added that he has “the right combination of local government experience, engineering and business background” to do the job.
Twelve of the 22 speakers that followed were supporters of Uchima.
Kathy Lindbergh, a New Horizons homeowner, said that Uchima, as a planning commissioner, was very helpful when the senior community was struck by a devastating fire.
Chris Aihara, former executive director of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles and former member of the Torrance Cultural Arts Commission, said, “I’m well aware of the Uchima family and their long-standing participation and philanthropy in the Asian community.” She added that Uchima will bring his “understanding and sensitivity” to represent Torrance’s diverse residents.
Minoru “Min” Shinmoto, a Military Intelligence Service veteran and 42-year resident of Torrance, noted that Uchima is a son of Ansho Mas Uchima, a decorated Korean War veteran and family friend of the Shinmotos for 78 years. Ray Uchima “is the most qualified councilman among all the candidates here tonight … He will bring with him his knowledge and enthusiasm,” Shinmoto said.
Terry Chodosh followed Shinmoto by simply saying, “I agree with everything he said.”
Jean Hirata, who has been neighbors with Uchima and his family for the past 28 years, praised him as “an advocate for view rights and maintaining strong property values … He was supportive of me and my neighbors during view obstruction disputes we’ve had in past years.” Referring to Toyota’s decision to leave Torrance, she said, “It is imperative to have someone like Ray Uchima, who has a strong business development background and leadership skills to create new business revenue for the city.”
Don Nose, president of the Go For Broke National Education Center, said, “Ray’s family has been a supporter of our nonprofit for many years … Ray himself has been a supporter of our organization as well. But I think importantly as well, Ray was responsible for having our organization reside here in Torrance, and as real estate broker found our place here even though our monument is residing in downtown Los Angeles.”
Jim Faulk, who served with Uchima on the Planning Commission and the Strategic Planning Committee, recalled that the commission was under pressure when it turned down development and zone-change requests. “By observing Ray at that time, I found Ray to be an independent thinker … a good listener. He studies the issues in depth with character, passion, commitment and integrity.” While he has not endorsed candidates in the past, Faulk made an exception for Uchima.
Testimonials were also heard from Janet Kaplan, past co-president of the Riviera Homeowners Association; Ted Lawson, who runs real estate brokerage company; Steven Griswold, who owns two businesses in Torrance and served with Uchima on the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation board; Paul Cohen, who has known Uchima for 35 years; and Dean Case, who supported a city-based animal control program.
Lynn Shirvandehi, Jim Gilligan, John Clifford and Joe Galliani spoke on behalf of Gow; Val Reyes supported Herring; Omar Navarro and Lloyd Brown endorsed retired City Clerk Sue Herbers.
Craig Kessler, Lyn Miles and Rick Marshall urged the council to respect the wishes of the voters by selecting one of the candidates from the election, preferably the fifth-place finisher.
Councilmembers Gene Barnett, Heidi Ashcraft and Geoff Rizzo nominated Griffiths; Furey nominated Uchima; Councilmember Kurt Weideman nominated Herring; and Councilmember Tim Goodrich nominated See. During the second round, Ashcraft nominated Griffiths, Goodrich nominated Uchima, and the others passed.
When the vote was taken, Griffiths received five votes to one for Uchima (from Goodrich). Weideman moved that the nomination be made unanimous, and Barnett seconded. Griffiths was sworn in immediately and took his seat on the council after the break.